Guest Post: Swing Kids

by Lavern Merriweather

Before he became Batman and just another struggling nobody, Christian Bale did a movie in the 90’s called “Swing Kids” about young white European folks who were all gaga over the latest dance craze of that time. What struck me the most about that film was the review by the late Gene Siskel who was once half of a very popular film critic duo. Mr. Siskel said that it really got on his nerves how the message of that film seemed to be that if it weren’t for that pesky little Holocaust thing those kids could just dance the night away and have their fun. His comments got to me to thinking about how many times I could say the exact same thing whenever there is a movie or TV drama about slavery or the Civil Rights Movement. Those stories are almost always told from the perspective of a white person involved, and it’s usually how the white person or people feel or how it affects their friends and family.

Rarely do you ever have a movie or TV drama where the black stars are the focal point. Black people are either window dressing or are there purely for show, and by that, I mean they have to be there which must completely piss off a lot of white producers and directors who obviously refuse to see the world past their swanky LA neighborhoods or acknowledge that it wasn’t Jane Fonda and Marlon Brando who were getting their asses kicked during the harshest times of the Civil Rights Movement. Nor did they get dogs and hoses sicced on them or spend countless nights in jail for trumped up bullshit charges. Not that I’m denying the contributions of those people or many other white people who aided black people back in the day and stood side by side with black people as brothers and sisters in the struggle. There were a great number of white people who had black peoples’ back when it came to fighting against racism and Jim Crow laws. But let’s be fair here, the majority of people that suffered the most and had to deal with the trials and tribulations of battling racism were African-Americans. So, it would only naturally make sense that the main targets should also be the main protagonists when it comes to telling the tale since apparently to every-one but the white folks that make these films and who believe that black people would be nowhere were it not for the assistance of perfectly chiseled jawed white males with movie star looks.

Case in point, that wretched waste of a film “Ghosts of Mississippi” starring Alec Baldwin, Whoopi Golberg and James Woods was supposed to be a story about finally bringing the murderer of civil rights activist Medgar Evers to justice. Instead, it became – yet again – a movie about what the white male and his family were going through. How typical.

Another perfect example would be the movie “Biko” starring the amazing Denzel Washington and Kevin Kline in what was supposed to be a movie about Steven Biko, an intriguing and charismatic fighter for rights in apartheid South Africa. Yet, that film also dwindled into yet another Holly-white version of ‘let’s talk about all the pain and anguish that the white folks are dealing with’. Granted, Mr. Biko was unfortunately and brutally murdered, but that doesn’t mean his story can’t be told in a thought provoking and respectable way. He was, after all, the one who gave his life for what he believed in. So, he deserves a shitload better re-telling of his life than that crappy ass steaming pile of dog mess that Holly-weird made. Whoever did that film needs to have a chat with the person who made the movie “Hotel Rwanda” starring Don Cheadle. That film not only had the man the true story was about as the lead, but it actually showed the heart wrenching saga of those people’s pain through the eyes of black people for a change.

I was watching an interview with some of the cast from the groundbreaking and phenomenal mini-series “Roots”, and I noticed that that superior drama was probably one of the few times we will ever have the story of slavery focus mainly on the black people who were slaves and what they experienced. It also didn’t sugarcoat what slavery was either like a lot of movies did years ago and still do when they aren’t telling us how much it was upsetting to a white person that is, cough “The Help” cough. That mini-series dared to go there with all the ugliness and brutality of slavery and showcased what a sick depraved downright evil practice that it was.

Another thing was that it gave quite a bit of work to some now very famous black faces and shot many of their careers into the stratosphere. However what bothers me the most about the ‘what is wrong with whitey’ mindset is that it gives many white people license to completely absolve themselves from any guilt.

I remember some snotty little puissant on a website whining about how if it hadn’t been for Dodgers owner Branch Rickey, Jackie Robinson would never have broken the baseball color barrier. Then this prick went on to hail Mr. Rickey as a ‘pioneer’ because he went his own way when so many other owners, players, and powers-that-be in baseball told him not to.

I agree that Mr. Rickey deserves some credit for helping baseball change its bigoted policies, but he wasn’t the one forced to endure some really messed up indignities that Mr. Robinson had to deal with from extremely racist whites, a point I not so nicely reminded him of when I gave a response just like when I had to put another snobby jackass in his place because he was saying that if it hadn’t been for P.W. Botha, Nelson Mandela would not have been freed and seen as something of a martyr. Excuse me? Please Mr. Botha did what was right no doubt, but he wasn’t the one who gave 27 years of his life in prison stuck in a cell that is smaller than my fucking closet.

It’s like some white people want a medal because they fixed a problem that they created in the first place. If you are an 8 year-old and you spill grape juice all over the floor, I’m not going to praise you for cleaning it up. That is what you are supposed to do, not arrogantly and foolishly paint yourself as some kind of savior because you finally did the right thing after so many decades of doing the wrong thing. You can break your own arm patting yourself on the back there, sparky.


11 thoughts on “Guest Post: Swing Kids

  1. @Lavern You make some excellent points. Especially about “Mississippi” and “Biko”. Both those films totally ignore the black struggle even though it’s supposed to be about us. Another one you can add to the list is “Amistad”. It was directed by Steven Speilberg. It was supposed to be about a slave revolt on a slave ship. But most of the film was about the white lawyer fighting for the slaves. WTF?! Hollyweird loves to use black people as a backdrop but never the central characters. Even when the story is about our struggle. *sigh*

  2. Roots was very sanitized for TV. If they had shown the true face of slavery that Sojurner Truth or Frederick Douglas wrote about it would have never seen the light of day. One day we will see the real slavery story in all it’s brutality that will finally shame this nation for precipitating in it. This country will never heal until it acknowledge it’s past sins. Watching this documentary called Banished: How whites drove blacks out of town in America, whites in this country have a lot to answer for. The country points out evil in other countries but fail to see the blood in on country’s hands.

    1. But for 70’s tv it did go there a lot better than some films maybe Spike Lee will do that movie[fingers crossed]

  3. I distinctly remember going to see “Swing Kids” at a young teen, and how excited I was at the prospect of seeing not only a movie about the Holacaust that would be (hopefully) told in a truthful manner, but more importantly to me was that the influence of Black music and its’ contribution to both European and U.S. society would finally be shown in unique setting like the movie trailer made it out to be. Although I did find the music enjoyable, I couldn’t help but feel that something was irritating me and amiss about it..and that’s when it occured to me that this movie was not going to be told from the viewpoint of those who Truly did struggle-but strictly from those who only seemed preoccupied with their petty worries of dancing!

    1. That’s another thing why is it that Hollywhite only shows WHITE PEOPLE that love black music case in point The Big Chill.

  4. @ Levern, great comparison about thr film the Big Chill- I remember the hype and buzz that surrounded it when I was a kid, and how Black music seemed to serve as a backdrop of their lives, so to speak. As though they were only instilled to lend the characters of the movie some “cool points”, if you will! SMH

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